ESSENTIAL

BRIDEFRANKENSTEINBlu-rayCoverBaja

You may not have a special taste, as I do, for the cycle of classic Universal monster movies, but they were a potent cultural force.  They created a mythology which has become a part of American mythology, and they influenced several generations of filmmakers who shaped American cinema in the latter part of the 20th Century, most especially Steven Spielberg.

FMOFBrideCover

Bride Of Frankenstein is the best of the cycle — visually elegant, wry and amusing, powerful on many levels.  The image of The Bride, incarnated by Elsa Lanchester in a surprisingly brief appearance on screen, resonates as powerfully as the image of Dracula or Frankenstein’s Monster or The Mummy or The Wolfman.

BrideLanchesterKarloffBaja

She is an amazing cinematic creation — a vision of woman as an electric, elemental force too powerful to accommodate, to accept.  She must be destroyed — but she cannot be destroyed.  She is an eternal accusation against the presumption of mere men.

The Blu-ray edition of Bride Of Frankenstein, magnificently restored, belongs in every home.

SILVER CITY

SilverCityPoster

Between 1950 and 1952, actor Edmund O’Brien and director Byron Haskin teamed up for three Westerns.  Two of them, Silver City and Denver & Rio Grand are now available on Blu-ray in decent if not spectacular transfers from Olive Films.

O’Brien was a reliable character actor but sits a horse uneasily as the star of a Western.  He has a modern, urban sort of persona and lacks the physical grace of a typical Western hero.  Haskin was a special effects man who got into directing, most notably The War Of the Worlds in 1954.  He seems an unlikely fit for Westerns as well.

SilverCitySet

The two films are, nevertheless, good solid contributions to the genre.  Haskin has a decent feel for landscape, and in Silver City there’s a really fine action scene filmed on a moving train hauling giant logs.  It’s one of the best train sequences in any Western, done live with excellent stunt work and no recourse to process shots.

SilverCityYvonneBaja

In the same film, Yvonne De Carlo is a vexing presence as the female lead — she helps the film’s running time pass most agreeably..

Both films are probably for fans of the genre only, but as such they don’t disappoint.

THE TALL MEN

Poster - Tall Men, The_02

Clark Gable didn’t make many Westerns and never made a great one, except for, arguably, the modern Western The Misfits.  He never had to grind out a living in B-Westerns, either.  It’s a shame, because he looks terrific on a horse and has the physical self-possession of a classic Western hero.

It’s odd, too, because his breakthrough as an actor came as the result of a Western, The Painted Desert, his first talkie, from 1931.  He played second lead to star William Boyd but got so much fan mail that the studio which had him under contract, MGM, decided he was star material himself.

TallMenGableBaja

The Tall Men, from 1955, directed by Raoul Walsh with his customary craft, is pretty close to being a great Western, however.  Gable was doubled a lot in his riding scenes on location during the production, having already suffered his second heart attack by 1955, and much of the first half of the film is studio bound, but this is no great loss, since the heart of it is a lively love triangle between Gable, Robert Ryan and Jane Russell, heavy on dry and amusing banter between the principals.

Russell gives one of her best performances in the film as the ambitious, down-to-earth Nella Turner.  It’s a pleasure to watch Gable’s easy, insistently masculine style of sparring with her — there was never an actor who conveyed a cocksure but amiable virility quite the way Gable did.  He’s got a lot of woman to work with here in Russell, and he seems to enjoy the challenge thoroughly.

TallMenRussellWagon

The second half of the film opens up suddenly, and somewhat surprisingly, to an epic scope, as the love triangle hits the trail on a cattle drive from Texas to Montana.  It becomes a different kind of film — grand, poetic, rooted in the landscape.  It has passages with horses and cattle and wagons and river crossings that recall passages in Walsh’s visually astonishing The Big Trail, from 1930.

TallMenGableVaqueros

The cattle drive mounts to an action climax that doesn’t really deliver the goods visually or dramatically, but up to that moment it’s riveting.  And somehow Gable’s presence knits all the ill-fitting parts of the picture together.

The Tall Men may occupy a place in the second rung of the Western canon, but as plain old-fashioned Western entertainment goes it more than earns its spurs.